Unmanageable Work, (Un)liveable Lives: The UK Sex Industry, Labour Rights and the Welfare State

Cruz, Katie (2013): Unmanageable Work, (Un)liveable Lives: The UK Sex Industry, Labour Rights and the Welfare State,  Social & Legal Studies 22(4) 465–488. 

Abstract

This article draws from interview material with sex worker rights activists in London, and sex work scholarship, to explore the demand for labour rights for sex workers and erotic dancers. I argue that there are two positions visible in activism and scholarship, which I term ‘liberal’ and ‘materialist’. Whilst the former posits that the problem with sex work is insufficient mainstreaming of commercial sex within the labour market, the latter stresses the need for protections and freedoms from the labour market and repressive criminal and immigration laws. I suggest that these two perspectives need to be thought together. To this end, for the first time in the UK context I ask what labour rights can do for erotic dancers and indoor-based sex workers. I argue that, whilst labour law may offer some level of protection, both forms of commercial sexual service are ultimately unmanageable and that the strategy of securing individual labour rights suffers from several limitations. In the final part, I map the materialist frames onto broader feminist citizenship debates. I ask whether these models can deliver the protections sought and tentatively propose that a feminist-oriented demand for a basic income may be of use to the sex worker rights movement today.

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